It's Time to Consider the Possibilities
As we continue our stroll toward the end of May, there likely will be a few very intriguing arms under consideration for promotions to major league clubs. There are a variety of reasons this time of year becomes appealing to management - not the least of which is money. By June, players will be beyond the date that would trigger an earlier arbitration eligibility so teams gain an extra year of a potentially bargain salary. When you combine that with the opportunity for a pitcher to settle into a comfort zone at the minor league level before jumping into the fire, it makes good sense. However, it also makes good sense for fantasy owners to keep close tabs on high-ceiling pitchers displaying a readiness to test the big-time waters, and any developing situations in the team's major league rotation that could signal an emerging opportunity. So, for the next few weeks, I'll feature a couple of arms you should watch for as summer heats up. Let's look at a couple who are here now, or close.
Kevin Gausman (Baltimore Orioles)
This was actually an interesting opportunity to make some positive statements about a pitcher that isn't exactly putting his best foot forward. It may seem easy to suggest that a young pitcher who is dominant in his first couple of starts is good, but how easy is it to say a pitcher who has now logged nine innings over two starts, and allowed 11 runs, including four home runs, has a very bright future?
Let me have a go at this: Kevin Gausman has a very bright future. OK, that wasn't so hard. However, I guess I probably should explain.
I'll start with the good news. Gausman has a very live arm, touching 99 mph on the radar gun and routinely sitting 95-97 with his fastball. Perhaps even more impressive was his change-up that was pretty effective when he could use it in ideal situations. His slider had a nice down-angle, although it was a bit inconsistent, so there is reason to believe he can also build that into a respectable third offering. He also displayed a very compact delivery with a solid, free and easy release that lends itself to repeatability - always a key component of evaluating future promise, especially when it is combined with the aforementioned high quality pitches.
That all sounds great you say, so how come he got lit? That's a little tougher to detail. In frames where he struggled, he didn't always locate that lively fastball. He liked to use it early, and when he was getting it on for strikes and putting the hitter behind in the count he was tough. When he fell behind in the count, hitters tended to lay off the breaking pitch and change up, and sat on a more hittable fastball. I was also a little surprised with his pitch sequencing. Regular readers will recall that I often try to pick the next offering along with the batter, and I was able to do that too often. The first couple of innings was almost all fastballs, and then he started working in the secondary stuff around the third inning - a reasonable game plan, but only if you are spotting that fastball consistently.
Gausman has exceptional stuff, and his delivery has the huge advantage of being very repeatable - albeit it is not particularly deceptive, so he won't get a big early boost that some with a more unorthodox delivery might enjoy. It's an adjustment game now. He is learning the importance of getting ahead in counts, and seeing that major league hitters are less likely to chase pitches just out of the zone. Big league hitters can even hit an exceptional fastball if they are reasonably sure it's coming, and mistakes are far more likely to end up in a parking lot than they were in the minor leagues. He has a huge arm the command to make it even better, and the tools to put it all together. The O's might even want him to get a little more seasoning, but the future is still very bright. Stay tuned.
Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals)
Another favorite among fantasy kid watchers just made his first major league start this week. Like some of the other arms we have been evaluating, the Cardinals would have liked to wait a bit longer on Wacha, but injuries necessitated a call-up now, rather than next month.
Interestingly, there is quite a bit in the Gausman analysis above that I could just cut and paste into the Wacha segment. They both have good fastballs - though Wacha doesn't typically match Gausman's velocity, sitting in the low 90s - they both have plus-plus change-ups, and both are still developing consistent breaking pitches. Additionally, they both feature relatively clean mechanics that will give them the ability to repeat their release points, and suggests the likelihood that they will be able to command the zone.
I hadn't seen as much of Wacha, so I was eager to watch this first start Thursday against the Royals. On my ratings system, he is actually a couple of notches below Gausman, but that obviously didn't mean he couldn't get off to a better start. And, he did just that, throwing seven innings of one-run ball.
Actually, the biggest difference is in the velocity and action of their respective fastballs. While Gausman is more of a pure power pitcher, and likes to work up and down in the strike zone, Wacha relies more on a bit of sinking action, and needs to keep the ball down to be most effective. That probably explains his decreased strikeout rate as he faced more advanced hitters in the minors. Of course, the Royals took a free-swinging approach, and he logged six strikeouts and no walks in his debut.
Like Gausman, Wacha's change-up is a huge key to his success. He has used a good old fashioned circle change, and that pitch has always been a favorite because of the movement it usually produces. While he was spotting everything in his first start - love the composure - I still don't think his breaking pitch is quite as developed as that of Gausman, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against major league hitters in his upcoming outings. I have good, but not necessarily great, expectations.
Some Notable Rotation Happenings
Danny Hultzen (SEA) - Hultzen has experienced some minor shoulder problems this year and he is on the minor league disabled list. Still, he is throwing again, and assuming the "minor" part is factual, he should see some time in Seattle later this season so I am planning an overview of his skill set for next week.
Tyler Skaggs (ARZ) - Despite putting up lackluster numbers at Triple-A, Skaggs came up for a cameo, and was dazzling in a doubleheader start this past weekend. He went right back down, but he certainly reminded everyone why he is such a highly regarded prospect. He'll be back, but the Diamondbacks rotation is getting very crowded.
Brandon Morrow (TOR) - He has struggled on and off all season, and he displayed a disturbing drop in velocity before leaving his last start after just two innings. The Jays are calling it forearm soreness, and if that's all it is, he'll return soon. Keep in mind, forearms are attached to elbows, and that is always a concern, so check for updates.
Jake Odorizzi (TB) - We just covered him last week, and he experienced results similar to those posted by Gausman. He doesn't have the ceiling of Gausman, and he went sent back down this week, but he'll be back, and he'll be a useful fantasy starter.
Jeanmar Gomez (PIT) - In his last start, he was outstanding in an eye-opening pitcher's duel with Rick Porcello - that's right, he shut down the Tigers. He now has a 2.30 ERA, but I watched a couple of innings, and while he is, I suppose, a marginal talent, I would be very surprised to see this last.
Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) - After leaving a start after a couple of innings with a minor injury, and having been smacked around in that start, there were some concerns about his health going forward. His start against the Mets suggests he is just fine. He remains one of the more underrated pitchers in the fantasy game.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) - I watched him a couple of times this spring and wasn't all that excited, but maybe he just needed more time to adjust. I watched part of his last start against the Angels, and he really did look sharp.
John Danks (CWS) - He's back, and he may be pretty close to 100% healthy, but he is not 100 percent sharp yet. His strong first start back was somewhat surprising, but the second time out the rust was clearly evident (both in velocity and command). Danks might return to what he was before the injury, but he is a high risk play right now.
Carlos Martinez (STL) - The Cardinals have him at Triple-A stretching out, and he is likely to be tried in the rotation when he returns. They have an abundance of quality young arms, and Martinez, while a bit erratic at times, does have raw stuff that probably slots in right behind Shelby Miller on their high ceiling food chain.
Anthony Ranaudo (BOS) - This is a deep sleeper special. I have always been very bullish on him, but injuries have seriously slowed his progress. The Red Sox are being conservative with his workload, but he is faring well at Double-A, and might sneak in a start or two in Boston sometime this year. File the name away.
The Cubs Kyuji Fujikawa is back on the disabled list, and this time it equates with season-ending Tommy John surgery. Kevin Gregg is doing surprisingly well, and should hold down the job as long as his success lasts, but I wouldn't bet the bank on it being a long term thing ... Chris Perez is out of action in Cleveland, and despite some pretty rough going early this season, and some questions regarding his health, the Indians are auditioning Vinnie Pestano. He is the best bet to pick up saves, and should offer some value ... The Brewers seem very hesitant to put John Axford back into the closer's role with Jim Henderson hurt. For now, at least, Francisco Rodriguez is the interim guy, but they will be hoping to have Henderson back fairly soon … Brandon League notched a couple of encouraging outings for the Dodgers, quelling Kenley Jansen speculation, but expect that to heat up again as soon as League stumbles, even just a little ... The Blue Jays' Casey Janssen is still dealing with a balky shoulder, and he has appeared in only three games over an 18-day stretch. He's been doing the job, but keep your fingers crossed (and maybe handcuff with Steve Delabar if your roster allows).